I am always amused at the amount of complaining that goes on about non-conference scheduling, especially about how weak a rival school’s [or even general conference’s] schedule is. As with any sports “discussions,” these arguments often ignore context for the sake of their own argument.
No one wants to point out the limited number of non-conference games and matching up logistics. No one wants to remember that Alabama played Virginia Tech when pointing out Georgia State on the schedule. No one wants to talk about how Texas actually played AT Wyoming and UTEP when most “big” teams won’t even leave their home stadium to play such “lower” teams.
It is always about how the SEC always schedules FCS schools, or how the Big Ten loves playing the MAC.
But, how do the non-conference schedules really compare? While I am not trying to actually rank the non-conference schedules of the various teams and conferences, I am interested in which conferences appear on those respective schedules. So first…the numbers:
- Most scheduled: C-USA and Independents (16.07% each)
- Least scheduled: Big 12 (1.79%)
- BCS scheduled: 28.57%
- FCS scheduled: 28.57%
- Most scheduled: Conference USA (15%)
- Least scheduled: Pac 12 (0%)
- BCS scheduled: 35%
- FCS scheduled: 22.5%
- Most scheduled: C-USA and Sun Belt (16.67% each)
- Least scheduled: Mountain West and Pac 12 (0% each)
- BCS scheduled: 23.33%
- FCS scheduled: 26.67%
- Most scheduled: MAC (27.08%)
- Least scheduled: Sun Belt (0%)
- BCS scheduled: 29.17%
- FCS scheduled: 20.83%
- Most scheduled: ACC (16.07%)
- Least scheduled: Big Ten and Pac 12 (1.79% each)
- BCS scheduled: 51.79%
- FCS scheduled: 12.5%
- Most scheduled: Big Ten (25%)
- Least scheduled: Pac 12 (0%)
- BCS scheduled: 53.85%
- FCS scheduled: 23.08%
Mountain West Conference
- Most scheduled: Independents (26.53%)
- Least scheduled: Big 12 (0%)
- BCS scheduled: 38.78%
- FCS scheduled: 20.41%
- Most scheduled: Mountain West (29.73%)
- Least scheduled: American, Big 12, and Sun Belt (0% each)
- BCS scheduled: 24.32%
- FCS scheduled: 24.32%
- Most scheduled: Sun Belt (16.07%)
- Least scheduled: Big Ten, Independents, and Mountain West (1.79% each)
- BCS scheduled: 32.14%
- FCS scheduled: 25%
Sun Belt Conference
- Most scheduled: SEC (22.5%)
- Least scheduled: Big Ten and Pac 12 (0% each)
- BCS scheduled: 42.5%
- FCS scheduled: 25%
Now, for the explanation of all of this.
GEOGRAPHY MATTERS! In most cases, it would seem that proximity to another conference is likely more of a factor than anything else. This should go without saying. The Big Ten and MAC correspond so well that it makes sense that each are the other’s most scheduled conference. The truly curious case is why the Mountain West has exactly zero games against Big 12 opponents.
EVERYONE LOVES THE FCS! It does not matter which conference you look at, there are teams that have scheduled an FCS team (or two). Of the 323 non-conference games (including all games for independent teams), there are 110 games involving FCS schools (34.1 percent). The ACC leads the way with 28.57 percent of all non-conference games being against FCS opponents, with two schools — Clemson (South Carolina State and The Citadel) and Georgia Tech (Elon and Alabama A&M) — faces two FCS teams. The Big 12 is second with 26.7 percent, while the SEC and Sun Belt are tied for third with 25 percent. The Pac 12 is just behind with 24.32 percent.
At the other end is Conference USA, which has only 12.5 percent of its games scheduled against FCS opponents. Those seven schools (East Carolina, FIU, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Middle Tennessee State, Tulane and UAB) each scheduled one opponent from the FCS, with East Carolina facing a potential upset with a very good (and soon to be FBS member) Old Dominion team.
POWER vs POWER. Of course, if we look at all conferences to see which ones tend to schedule teams from the BCS conferences, then we are going to get results that show that non-BCS conferences tend to do it more. It makes sense because of the attempted “W” grab by BCS schools by scheduling the North Texases and Florida Atlantics of the world. So, what about how the BCS conferences schedule themselves?
Well, the American Athletic Conference is tops here, with 35 percent of all of their non-conference games coming against BCS conference opponents. The American is mainly drawing from the Big Ten and SEC and includes the likes of Michigan, Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Michigan State [as well as weaklings like Kentucky and Illinois]. Next is the SEC with 32.14 percent, followed by the Big Ten, ACC, Pac 12 and rounding it out at the bottom is the Big 12 (23.3 percent).
ODDS and ENDS! That the Mountain West has a large number of games against Independents should not be surprising. BYU, a former Mountain West member, plays three games against the conference (Utah State, Boise State and Nevada). Temporarily nomadic Idaho and New Mexico State each play two games against MWC foes. And Air Force annually plays two independents — Army and Navy. In fact, all three of the Falcons’ FBS non-conference opponents this year are Independents (Notre Dame).
Georgia State was counted as a FBS member since they are in the final transitioning stage from the FCS tier. For their part, the Panthers are playing against three FCS opponents — the most of any FBS school. Georgia State faces Samford, Chattanooga, and Jacksonville State.
Some teams did shy away from scheduling an FCS opponent. Nineteen teams avoided that very easy “W” by not scheduling an FCS team, including the usual group of Southern California, UCLA and Notre Dame, as well as teams like Hawai’i, Florida Atlantic, and Miami University.
And, while some went for the weakest of the weak, others at least were willing to entertain the cream of the FCS crop. Kansas State faces two-time defending champion North Dakota State. Montana State travels to SMU in what could be an upset win for the Bobcats. Georgia Southern faces Florida, while Appalachian State will take on Georgia. Eastern Washington, the D-1 champs from 2010, will attempt to take down Oregon State, while the back-to-back runners-up to NDSU — Sam Houston State — get to face Texas A&M. And, the aforementioned Monarchs of Old Dominion will be facing FIVE different FBS opponents — East Carolina, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Idaho, and North Carolina.
CONCLUSION! Keep in mind that this is just a look at how conferences schedule each other. I did not try to rank strength of opponents or conferences. One could look and argue that the SEC might play Sun Belt teams, but they also play a lot of BCS teams, while the Big 12 tends to shy away from BCS schools. However, we also need to be mindful about which teams are being played. Again, that is not the goal here, but for every Clemson-Georgia, there’s an Auburn-Washington State or Washington-Illinois.